A 301 redirect is an electronic map that is used to tell a web browse that it should take visitors of a particular page to another page on your website or from one website over to entirely different website. Used properly, 301 redirects will help your website to rank higher in organic search listings and ensure your potential customers and visitors have a smooth and pleasant experience when using your website.
You can think of 301 redirects as the invisible stewards of your website who are busy directing both people and web crawlers to the correct pages of your website, all done behind the scenes.
When do I need to use a 301 redirect?
- You’ve bought a new domain name for your business or company and you want to switch your site to the new name.
- You’ve just commissioned a brand new website and want to ensure people who are clicking on links to old pages are taken to pages on the new website.
- You’ve renamed a page of your website and want to point people in the direction of the new page.
- You’ve deleted a page from your website and you want to point people to another page that might interest them instead of turning them away at the door.
- To ensure links from other websites pointing at a particular page of your website continue to point at a page that is reachable by both human visitors and Google’s web crawlers*.
*A ‘web crawler’ or ‘web spider’ is simply a metaphor frequently used to describe how Google automatically reads the pages of your website in order to categorise and index your content and information. It’s all done by robots, and even robots get lost if you don’t appropriately signpost something that has moved or changed. This is what a 301 also does!
Why a 301 redirect is absolutely essential for your website optimisation
If you know about the basics of SEO or Search Engine Optimisation (…and we hope you’ve been reading our blog) you will know how important it is to have good quality, relevant and appropriate links from other websites linking back to your website in order for it to be trusted and rank well. These links are very hard to get, and easily lost if you don’t know what you’re doing.
If other websites are linking to a page that suddenly disappears then they won’t be connected, bridged, associated or linked with your website any longer. Thus you completely lose the trust and ranking benefit obtained from these links and your site starts to drop down the organic search rankings in Google and other search engines.
If you’re moving from an old website to a newly built website you need to be sure these old pages are mapped to a new page correctly using 301 redirects.
How it improves your visitors experience of using your website
If you don’t setup 301 redirects, then the next time somebody tries to click on a link or access a page that no longer exists on your website, they will see an ugly and confusing 404 error, which is a sales killing web phenomena you will have all encountered.
This is the web equiverlent of asking a shop assistant for a particular item only to have them come back and say “Sorry I couldn’t find anything” and then walk away from you… or going to the same shelf you’ve been going to for years for the sugar only to discover they’ve moved it! I imagine you’d be quite annoyed by this, so will your site visitors if you don’t help them with a signpost.
So even if you delete or decide to rename a page you really do want to ensure people are taken to the new correct page, or at least the nearest or most meaningful equivalent page to the page they were expecting.